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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I am half grateful for the Minister's response. My amendment is certainly intended to raise a serious issue. I am grateful for the Minister's explanation of the differences in the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act between the definition of categories of places of employment and listing work of a type. My concern is that volunteers involved in the activities of an accommodation centre, or volunteer members of a visiting advisory group who are not doing remunerative work, may not be caught by the definition of "work of a type". However, I am grateful for the Minister's concession that, having taken the initial view that the Government always regard themselves as right about such matters and do not want anyone to touch their beautiful baby Bill, on this occasion they consider that if they pay attention to my amendment, the baby could grow a little healthier.
The Minister said that he looks forward to returning to the matter on Report. I should say that he will definitely look forward to it because, of course, I shall have an opportunity to consider what he has said and will naturally table an amendment in anticipation of the noble Lord tabling his own. At this stage, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
People who take up residence in accommodation centres will often have arrived there following long and hazardous journeys. As we have heard over the past two days, they face stays of up to six months or perhaps longer. The services provided by the accommodation centres will be their lifelines and should give them the fairest opportunity properly to present their cases to be allowed to remain here. The services listed in Clause 26 should not be regarded, either in whole or in part, as pick-and-mix options.
As currently worded, the clause would allow the Government to choose to provide perhaps only one or some of all the services listed in Clause 26. That would not be good enough. If the Government are determined to keep the word "may", will the Minister tell the Committee which services the Government "may" at some stage decide not to provide? Will they decline to provide food, money, education and training, health, religious observance? Perhaps the Minister will say which of those facilities the Government may in the future decide are unnecessary? I beg to move.
Earl Russell: Noble Lords on this side of the Committee agree with the amendment and are happy to support it. I alluded a short time ago to the extremeley wide flexibility that the wording of regulations allows the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State "may" simply means that he might do this, he might do that, or, indeed, he might do something else. It is not really the imposition of an obligation. In fact, I once described it as an approach that is flexible to the point of contortionism.
The Government talk a great deal about rights and responsibilities, but responsibilities rest on government and well as on others. Those responsibilities involve their admitting occasionally that they actually place a duty on the Secretary of State. To say that the Secretary of State "may" provide food and other essential items is simply not good enough. We support the amendment.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I am not sure that these requirements are covered by regulations under subsection (1). It seems to me that regulations come under subsection (2) of the clause. I believe that my noble friend's amendment has one flaw. I would not have thought that the Secretary of State could be forced to provide anything that he thinks is necessary because of exceptional circumstances. I am not sure, but that seems to me to be a slight flaw. However, the gist of the amendment is extremely important. If the Minister does not like it, I hope that we shall ensure that it happens at some point.
Lord Filkin: The Government understand the objectives advanced for the amendment but believe the proposition placing a duty on us to provide all the facilities listed in Clause 26 to residents of accommodation centres to be flawed. As drafted, the wording of Clause 26(1) reflects the equivalent wording in Sections 95 and 96 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. In principle, it would be illogical to have a duty to provide particular types of support to residents of accommodation centres, but not in respect of Section 96, which sets out what may be provided by way of asylum support under the 1999 Act.
We are committed to supporting destitute asylum seekers. We are also committed to providing an appropriate range of services to residents of accommodation centres. However, as we discussed yesterday, we are trialling the centres and we do not
A genuine trial means that we should not have a fixed concept about what might work. One has to start with a clear hypothesis about what one believes would work while being guided by both evidence and experience. We have already said that we are prepared to consider a different configuration of accommodation centres in response to concerns raised about 750 beds. A smaller centre might impact on the types of service that it is practical or necessary for the Home Office to provide. For example, with a smaller centre it may become less likely that there is need to provide transport to and from the centre because residents may be more easily assimilated on local public transport. It is prudent to be prepared for all eventualities. We would not want a provision on the face of the Bill placing an obligation on the Home Office to arrange for the provision of something that it was not sensible for us to provide.
Further, irrespective of the trial, some of the facilities listed in Clause 26 may not be necessary for the Secretary of State to provide in all circumstances. It is arguable whether it would always be necessary for the Home Office to provide religious facilities to all asylum seekers in every accommodation centre. If, for example, there is a convenient local church, or mosque, say, it might be sensible to make use of that rather than go to the expense of providing dedicated on-site facilities for those particular denominations. However, as I indicated yesterdayI hope, clearlywe will provide on-site facilities in the trial centres.
The use of the word "may" does not mean that we have any intention of ducking out of our responsibilities towards destitute asylum seekers. As a matter of policy, we will provide the following facilities in the trial centres: basic living needs; education for children on site; primary healthcare; purposeful activities for adults, including English language training; facilities for religious observance; interpretation facilities; assistance with travel to appeal hearings and asylum interviews, in the event that these do not take place on site, and the initial journey to the centre; and access to legal advice.
In the light of the assurances that I have given about what will happen in the trial centres and the argumentation for why we need to keep an open mind about how best to support asylum seekers, I hope that the noble Baroness will agree to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Avebury: When outlining the list of facilities to be provided in the four pilot centres, the Minister made no mention of means of communication with the applicants' legal advisers. Does the noble Lord recall that some difficulties arose in Yarl's Wood because faxes that went to and fro between the residents in the centre and their legal advisers were occasionally passed through the Immigration Service and were thereby delayed for periods of up to 36 hours? Can the Minister confirm that proper and sufficient facilities will be provided at these centres to enable residents to communicate with their legal advisers by fax, telephone, or e-mail, so that they will not have to wait hours in a queue in order to use them?
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